Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Friday, 20 January 2012

A Writer is a Pugilist First! The Help and its lessons for writers

Book review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Recently I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and came away gloriously satisfied. It is, in the finest sense of the term, a good old-fashioned read: a full-length novel (444 pages), an authentic setting, a cast of fully-realized characters, an engaging story with a heart.

This debut novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in southern USA in 1962 - a time when racial tensions run high and the dreaded KKK string up black men who even dare look a white woman in the eye.

Of course, the white households run on black help - men who work in the plantations and yards outside and women, in starched white uniforms, who cook, clean, polish, launder and manage white babies inside. The white men keep busy as plantation owners or corporate executives and the white women keep busier with bridge parties and charity balls.

The story revolves around three women: Aibileen, a black maid who lost her own son and is raising her seventeenth white child; Minny, another black maid, younger than Aibileen, mother of five children, a legendary cook, and feisty as a southern sun; and Skeeter, a 22-year-old white woman who has returned to Jackson after graduating, with ambitions to become a writer - if only her mother would stop getting her hitched to a man.

Skeeter, unhappy with the shabby manner in which her best friends - now married and running their own households - treat their black house maids, grieving the loss of the elderly maid who'd raised her since she was a baby, and searching for a riveting topic upon which to write and grab the attention of a senior editor in New York city, has a lightbulb moment: to give voice to Mammy.

Mammy was the black maid in the popular southern story, Gone With the Wind. Skeeter argues that nobody asked the devoted Mammy what she felt, and perhaps it was worthwhile examining what lay behind the stereotype? She broaches the idea to Aibileen who, predictably, shudders at the prospect. It is, after all, the era of the KKK.

So, which way will the pendulum swing? No spoiler here - read and discover for yourself! Rest assured, you'll be amply rewarded with hours of pleasure.

I cannot resist adding here that The Help also has help for aspiring writers and those working hard to get published. The book has been an incredible success - a New York Times bestseller for several months, it has sold five million copies! Followed swiftly by a film adaptation. Gulp!

But it didn't happen overnight. Kathryn Stockett had 60 rejections, turned down by as many literary agents. However, over those five years she wrote, edited, re-wrote the manuscript, refusing to give up.

A writer, I believe, is first and foremost a pugilist, who, after every knock, gets up and goes for it again. Ms Stockett got lucky with the 61st. However, as her editor Amy Einhorn - who runs her own imprint Amy Einhorn Books under Putnam - states, the book needed a complete overhaul and she accepted it only after the writer agreed to her conditions. Which meant,

a) it was back to the writing table for Ms Stockett

b) there was an editor who was doing her job, which is making a good manuscript great through the very essential skill of editing.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an all time classic. Yet, how many know that the manuscript was thoroughly overhauled by its editor and is practically unrecognizable from the final book? There was a time when editors did their job. Publishing has changed vastly since then. Most publishing houses, especially in India, want a fully-finished manuscript that is ready to roll off a printing press.

So, what are you doing on that floor? Get up, master the editing skill and add it to your arsenal of punches. And while we are at it: Do you have a broken nose to show for your endeavours?!

As Aibileen would say, in her lovely dulcet lingo, "There aint no writer without no pugilist first".


  1. I love this review! It is fantastic. I especially like the last bit when you compare a writer to a pugilist!